Towards a Global Infrastructure for Digital Cultural
1 Perm State University, Ulitsa Bukireva 15 614990, Perm, Russia
Abstract. The development of global information infrastructure for digital cul-
tural heritage is a key to ensuring the openness and accessibility of objects of
such heritage on a global scale, increasing the economic, social and cultural im-
pact of the created resources and services, and more efficiently addressing so-
cial priorities. Author shows that documentation systems play an important uni-
fying role in the modern world of information infrastructure for digital cultural
heritage. The diversity of information resources requires further study and clas-
sification, which is also necessary for more detailed documentation and catalog-
ing of these resources. The development of systems for documenting infor-
mation resources for digital cultural heritage on a global scale is continuing and
has great potential in terms of systematizing data on information resources. This
article examines the current state of information infrastructure for digital cultur-
al heritage, identifies primary components and discusses their significance, de-
termining obstacles to the formation of this infrastructure, and tracing the de-
velopment of the digital cultural heritage infrastructure.
Keywords: E-infrastructure, Digital Cultural Heritage, Documentation Infor-
mation Systems, Information Resources and Services
The formation of an information infrastructure for digital cultural heritage is key to
ensure the openness and accessibility of objects of digital cultural heritage on a global
scale, increasing the economic, social and cultural impact of the created resources and
services, and more efficiently addressing social priorities.
According to the UNESCO’s Concept of Digital Heritage  and the Charter on
the Preservation of Digital Heritage , the concept of “digital heritage” is based on
the notion of “heritage” and refers to “our legacy from the past, what we live with
today, and what we pass on to future generations”. Cultural heritage includes material
objects and intangible things that have cultural, historical, aesthetic, archaeological,
scientific, ethnological or anthropological value for groups and individuals transmit-
ted into electronic form, as well as a heritage originally created in the digital form.
Integrating resources for digital cultural heritage and creating an integrated e-
infrastructure provides wide opportunities for improving the quality of resource usage
in science, education, creative industries, etc. based on the targeted search for the
necessary resources in a common user environment. Current challenges are connected
not only with the technical and technological side of building a unified infrastructure,
but also with overcoming or reducing the dangers around cultural heritage preserva-
tion in general, related to political, technogenic, anthropogenic and other factors. In
this regard, the pooling of information resources for endangered heritage can be con-
sidered an urgent task.
Considering the growing number of information resources of GLAM institutions,
projects on the preservation of cultural heritage in digital format, the emergence of
diverse resources, and new services for digital cultural heritage, the development of
national and international research infrastructures can ensure the development of digi-
tal cultural heritage on a global scale. But this requires careful consideration, analysis
and study, since the consolidation, systematization and structuring of information
resources, as well as the creation of specialized services able to build a single con-
nected space, must all contribute to a global infrastructure for digital cultural herit-
age. Consideration of the current state of the information infrastructure of the digital
cultural heritage requires the allocation of the main types of information resources for
cultural heritage on the basis of approaches to their formation, designation and role in
the infrastructure, determining trends and challenges for the further systemic digital
heritage infrastructure development.
2 Related work
The study of the infrastructure for digital historical and cultural heritage is connected
with the study of the information environments of institutions for storage and
memory. Virtual museums, digital libraries and archives, and other resources are dis-
cussed and considered from different perspectives, including the methodology of
creation, the principles of aggregation, the possibilities of use, and ways to enhance
social and cultural impact.
National regulations and strategies for the creation of cultural heritage infrastruc-
tures  are particularly important for the study of national infrastructures, as they
clarify the legal framework and approaches, the principles, the logic of the develop-
ment of national infrastructures, their structure, purpose and expected results for the
economy, culture, science and society.
Research on developing a framework for combining information resources for digi-
tal cultural heritage and the process of building digital cultural heritage infrastructures
are all relevant for this study. Accordingly, Daniela Fresa discusses the platforms that
integrate data of European digital cultural heritage for the formation of a digital infra-
structure, showing the importance of cooperation and dialogue between institutions,
responsible organizations and stakeholders in this field . In the works of other au-
thors, problems of building digital cultural heritage infrastructures , architecture,
metadata and interaction of information systems of cultural heritage  and other
issues have been considered.
This article examines the current state of the information infrastructure for digital
historical and cultural heritage, identifies the main components and their significance
in the digital infrastructure of the cultural heritage, considers obstacles to the for-
mation of infrastructure, and traces the prospects for the development of the digital
cultural heritage infrastructure.
3 Information resources of storage and memory institutions
Information resources of storage institutions are the basis of the digital infrastructure
for cultural heritage. The main types of these resources are virtual museums, electron-
ic archives, libraries and repositories where electronic collections of cultural heritage
items from collections of GLAM institutions are presented. The concepts of “elec-
tronic archive” and “electronic library” are well established and do not have any sig-
nificant differences in interpretations, while the term “virtual museum” has a large
number of different understandings of the essence of this phenomenon. We under-
stand the term “virtual museum” as the information system, which contains common
online collection or several collections of items with metadata, has museum character-
istics and allows a researcher to carry out the scientific, educational, exhibition and
excursion work in virtual space .
The information resources of the storage institutions, and primarily their electronic
collections, form the basis of historical and cultural sources for study and use, and
also present the virtual world of museums and exhibits in a virtual environment
through a whole set of information technologies, including virtual visualization sys-
tems. According to the European Group on Museum Statistics (EGMUS), in Europe
alone there are about 19,780 museums of different orientations , and more than
80%  of them have electronic collections with online access or participate in digiti-
zation projects. And at the moment it is impossible to estimate even approximately
the amount of information resources of storage and memory institutions that are cre-
ated in the world and provide access to the created electronic collections, because of
the under-development of global systems for documenting such resources.
4 National infrastructures for digital cultural heritage
The development of national information infrastructures for digital cultural heritage is
often initiated at the level of the state administration. In various countries, attempts
have been made to build national infrastructures for digital cultural heritage, and often
such infrastructures are aimed at integrating the information resources of individual
institutions-archives (for example, in India ), libraries (as in Russia ) or mu-
seums (as in Scotland ).
At the same time, there are projects devoted to the creation of an information infra-
structure for digital cultural heritage that unite the resources of GLAM organizations
on a national scale. In 2000, for example, the USA adopted a National Digital Infor-
mation Infrastructure and Preservation Program , which laid the foundations of
the National Infrastructure for Digital Heritage . Similar national projects are
being implemented in Australia , the Netherlands , New Zealand  and in
other countries. The achievement of national information infrastructures is the pooling
of primary resources, their standardized description and enabling of cross-sectoral
research over collections of different storage institutions and national memory.
Some national infrastructures designed for digital cultural heritage are not limited
to storage facilities from collections of GLAM-sector organizations, but go beyond
them, involving items from smaller collections and community organizations that are
often highly personal. Such projects include the TROVE project , initiated by the
National Library of Australia and developed in cooperation with many institutions of
storage and national memory of Australia. Nearly 600 million digital objects (books,
images, historic newspapers, maps, music, archival documents etc.) have been pub-
lished on the TROVE platform, the number of which continues to increase. The strat-
egy for the information resource development is connected with the active involve-
ment of volunteers in the editing of source texts (newspaper publications, books,
manuscripts), tagging, and extending the national resource with digital objects from
community archives. In addition, an important feature of the TROVE project in com-
parison with other national projects is the preservation on the platform of the digital
web archive of information resources (including the resources of storage organiza-
tions and national memory) created since 1996 to the present.
National information infrastructures of digital cultural heritage reflect the level of
development of the national policy in the field of digital cultural heritage and the
effectiveness of the strategy for the preservation of the cultural heritage as a whole,
show the value of cooperation of the national administration, storage institutions, IT
industry and academic institutes, solve problems of cataloging, documenting and
accessibility of digital cultural heritage sites online, ensure continuous improvement
and the infrastructure of the digital cultural heritage, the expansion of their user capa-
bilities and the sustainability of resources over time.
5 International aggregators
International aggregators of digital cultural heritage sites such as EUROPEANA ,
Google Arts & Culture , and the Digital Public Library of America , unite
electronic collections of selected storage institutions on one platform, as well as na-
tional information infrastructures for digital cultural heritage .
EUROPEANA is one of the largest of international aggregators of digital cultural
heritage in terms of the number of represented organizations and digital objects. The
project brings together the resources of the GLAM sector organizations and the na-
tional infrastructures of the member countries of the European Union, as well as se-
lected storage and national memory institutions of other countries, including the USA,
Russia, Israel, Turkey, and Ukraine. Collections of EUROPEANA  include about
60 million exhibits from 3500 organizations. On the EUROPEANA platform, a multi-
lingual interface is implemented, allowing the user to choose one of 27 languages for
comfortable use of the resource. Exhibits are dynamically formed in the collections
due to an expanded meta-description on topics, chronology, geography, digital for-
mat, etc. This approach allows users to search the digital items regardless of the lan-
guage, country, and origin of the subject, and therefore making the cultural heritage
The advantage of such aggregators is wider access to electronic collections of stor-
age and memory institutions from different countries worldwide due to an expanded
user base and audience, the implementation of multilingual interfaces, cross-
collection search capabilities, high quality digital content, a standardized meta-
description of objects, and developed tools and instructions for use in various fields
(science, education, enlightenment, studying family history, etc.).
6 Systems and services for visualization and analysis of sources
Expanding the possibilities for analyzing and visualizing digitized sources requires
the development of special tools and services that provide new, broader opportunities
for processing source materials. Systems for visualization and analysis of sources
have been developed in cooperation with academic research teams and storage institu-
tions. Systems and services of visualization and processing of sources expand the
possibilities of using the resources for digital cultural heritage, allow solving specific
scientific, research, educational and other tasks.
The architecture of information resources of this type is built on an integrated ap-
proach and includes tools that allow performing more complex searches and analyti-
cal operations. An important aspect of such systems for visualization and study of
cultural heritage are information systems of textual heritage that represent a source
(complex of sources) in a multi-layered form, including an image, a recognized text, a
semantic publication, often translated into modern language. For example, the portal
“MANUSCRIPT. Slavonic written heritage”  contains collections of ancient and
medieval Slavic and Russian texts, and built-in modules allow the user to view texts,
indexes and perform data retrieval, edit and fragment texts, process data for linguistic,
paleographic and textual studies, and perform automatic analysis and synthesis of
word forms of the Old Russian language, etc.
Resource processing systems and services offer techniques and instructions for the
use of digital cultural heritage in specific fields, which increases the involvement of
society in the use of resources in the study of the past. Thus, the DocsTeach service
, developed by the Education Department of the United States National Archives
and Records Administration (NARA), allows users to explore primary sources of US
history, has a variety of tools for using sources in the educational process, and also
offers ways to implement various types of online activities with the involvement of
Endangered and disappearing cultural heritage is particularly fragile. The Conven-
tion Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage  and
The World Heritage in Danger  by UNESCO define the range of such cultural
heritage. Information resources can play a major role in contributing to the visualiza-
tion of endangered and disappearing cultural heritage. There are systems of virtual
reconstruction, created on a wide historical sources basis, such as the virtual recon-
struction of the Moscow Strastnoy Monastery in the mid-17th - early 20th centuries
. This project of spatial reconstruction includes the restoration of the architectural
appearance of the Strastnoy Monastery demolished in 1937 in several time snapshots.
Underelying the 3D reconstruction of the monastery and the space of the Strastnaya
Square is a large array of archival material on the history and spatial structure of the
monastery (drawings, plans, descriptions of the monastery buildings, document man-
agement documentation, photographs of the XIX - early XX centuries, engravings,
etc.). Reconstruction of threatened or destroyed cultural heritage in the course of con-
flicts nowadays has a significant social and cultural significance. Such reconstruc-
tions, for example, 3D reconstruction of destroyed cultural heritage sites in Syria 
are often created mainly in photo and video materials (including photos of travelers)
and are designed not only to present monuments online, but also to attract the atten-
tion of society to modern threats and challenges.
Systems and services for visualization and processing of sources expand the possi-
bilities of using primary sources and are targeted at particular audiences, offering
effective tools for solving social, economic and cultural problems, which increases the
impact of digital cultural heritage in specific areas.
7 Catalogs and systems for documenting information resources
for digital cultural heritage
The development of digital heritage information infrastructure is supported not only
by the increase in the quantity and quality of the information resources described
above, but the development of catalogs and documentation systems.
National information resources represent the cultural heritage of the region as a
whole. There are also specialized catalogs and lists devoted to specific types of in-
formation resources of digital cultural heritage, for example, to virtual museums.
Such a directory is the V-must project (Virtual Museum Transnational Network) ,
which contains a list of significant virtual museums with a developed system of de-
scribing information resources, including data on the museums’ subjects, the availa-
bility of interactive technologies, the probable areas of virtual museum resources and
some other parameters.
Documenting and cataloging information resources to create an integrated global
environment, can lead to broader cross-cultural interactions with digitized content.
Yet there are barriers. Western and Eastern resources are seldom brought together in a
single aggregated information space, despite the growing demand for such resources
and their value in society. Most resources are not prepared to take into account the
needs of this intercultural exchange and provide bilateral user access and experiences.
Localization does not have to mean isolation, and the systems for documenting infor-
mation resources of over the world should allow us to overcome language, search and
even cultural boundaries. A global example of cataloging information about museums
and galleries as cultural heritage storage facilities is the resource Museum.com ,
which collects information about cultural institutions around the world with the ability
to edit information, add descriptions, with links to Web resources.
The Center for Digital Humanities of Perm University, Russia, has developed such
a system of documentation – “History-oriented information systems” . In devel-
oping the structure of the aggregator a multi-resource approach has been taken, which
allows uniting of information resources, oriented towards those related to digital his-
torical and cultural heritage. The meta-description system was developed to document
information resources. It includes the main (such as the name of the resource and the
web-address, the organization-creator, the authors, the country, the language of the
interface and the sources submitted, the year of creation) and additional description
parameters (subject, geography, period, sphere of humanitarian knowledge, type of
information resource, purpose, target audience, the types of represented cultural herit-
age objects, the presence of a virtual tour, the availability of ways of interacting with
the digital cultural heritage, the presence of a personal user account and other charac-
teristics). At present the platform contains more than 1200 documented information
resources and continues to be expanded. The systematization of information about
such resources allows the user to filter data while searching and to identify resource
groups by common characteristics, enabling targeted search. As such, the creation of
this information system dedicated to historically-oriented information resources and
cultural heritage, expands the possibilities for finding thematically close information
resources, and also to implement various queries based on the description parameters.
The expansion and further development of the aggregator aims to make digital cultur-
al heritage materials more accessible, promote a wider and more systematic use of
information resources, and ensure involvement of various types cultural heritage in-
formation resources in interdisciplinary scientific and educational research.
Thus, the systems for documenting information resources related to digital cultural
heritage can be considered as an essential element of a cultural heritage infrastructure,
since they provide digital tools and services for organizing information about re-
sources, searching and filtering data.
The information infrastructure for digital cultural heritage continues its development
toward the formation of an information infrastructure that is global in scale. It is im-
portant to note the diversity of information resources for digital cultural heritage, the
increase in the quantity and quality of electronic collections that are now freely acces-
sible online, and the recent development of national and international cultural heritage
Documentation systems play an important unifying role in the modern world of in-
formation infrastructure for digital cultural heritage. The diversity of information
resources requires further study and classification, which is also necessary for more
detailed documentation and cataloging of these resources. The development of sys-
tems for documenting information resources for digital cultural heritage on a global
scale is continuing and has great potential in terms of systematizing data on infor-
The prospect of a global information infrastructure assumes the existence of inter-
relations between resources, and the search for resources and collections, tools, tech-
niques and instructions for the application of digital cultural heritage in a variety of
areas. At the moment, full or partial interoperability between resources cannot be
achieved due to technological, technical, or otherwise political and cultural circum-
stances. The potential for the growth of a such a global information infrastructure as
discussed in this paper depends on the further development and improvement of na-
The development of infrastructure for digital cultural heritage must take into ac-
count the national contexts and expand cross-cultural interactions, and also aim to
increase economic, social and cultural impacts. Creation of an integrated, stable and
sustainable infrastructure for digital cultural heritage is possible only on the basis of
cooperation of key figures on a global scale – national administrations, stakeholders,
institutions of GLAM sector, IT companies, and research and academic organizations.
The project “Historical information-oriented information systems” was supported by a
grant from the Russian Fund for Basic Research and implemented in 2013-2015.
Thanks to the staff of the Center for Digital Humanities of Perm State University, the
platform continued its development. The author expresses gratitude to the students of
the Departments of History and Politics, Philosophy and Sociology and Philological
faculty of the Perm State University, who took part in the search for resources for
digital cultural heritage, their analysis and expansion of the catalog.
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